He was a
young man in the big city. He was a young man in the biggest,
the most overwhelming city-and he was not overwhelmed. For see, he
strode across Fifth Avenue just before the light changed, and his head
was up in the sharp New York wind and he was thriving upon the rock of
Manhattan, in 1938. His legs were long and his legs were strong; there
was no question about his legs; they were unmistakable in their length
and strength; they were as bold and dependable as any American machine,
moving him across Fifth just in time, his brown shoes attaining the
sidewalk without any faltering, his gait unaware of the notion that
legs might ever want to rest. Forty-ninth Street! He walked swiftly
through the haste and blare, through the chilly exclamation points of
taxis and trucks and people. He was a man! In America, '38, New York,
two o'clock in the afternoon, sunlight chopping down between buildings,
Forty-ninth Street. And his hair was so dark, almost black, and it had
a natural wave in it recognized as a handsome feature by everyone,
recognized universally, along with his dark blue eyes and strong jaw.
Women saw him, the all had to see him, all the young women had to
perceive him reaching the corner of Forty-ninth and Sixth, and they had
to know he was a candidate. He knew they knew. He knew they knew he
would get some of them, and he moved visibly tall with the tall
potential of the not-finite twentieth-0century getting that would be
his inheritance; and young women who glanced at him on Sixth Avenue
knew that he knew. They felt that they or their sisters would have to
take him into account, and they touched their scarves a little
He was twenty-five years old, and this day in
1938 was the present. It was so obviously and totally the present, so
unabashed and even garish with its presentness, beamingly right there
right now like Rita Hayworth, all Sixth Avenue was in fact at two
o'clock a thumping bright Rita Hayworth and the young man strode south
irresistibly. If there was only one thing he knew, crossing
Forty-eighth, it was that this day was the present, out of which
uncounted glories could and must blossom-when?-in 1938, or in 1939,
soon, or in the big brazen decade ahead, in 1940, soon; so he walked
with fistfuls of futures that could happen in all his pockets.
And his wavy hair was so dark, almost black.
And he knew the right restaurants for red roast beef, not too
expensive. And in his head were some sharp ideas about Dreiser, and
Thomas Wolfe, and John O'Hara.
On Forty-seventh between two buildings
(buildings taller even than him) there was an unexpected zone of deep
shade. He paused for half a second, and he shivered for some reason.
Briskly then, briskly he moved ahead.
In the restaurant on Seventh Avenue he met his
friend John for a witty late lunch. Everything was-the whole lunch was
good. It was right. And what they said was both hilarious and notably
well-informed. And then soon he was taking the stairs two at a time up
to an office on Sixth for his interview. The powerful lady seemed to
like his sincerity and the clarity of his eyes-a hard combination to
beat!-and the even more powerful man in charge sized him up and saw the
same things, and he got the job.
That job lasted three years, then came the
War, then another job, then Judy, and the two kids, and a better job in
Baltimore, and those years-those years. And those years. "Those
years"-and the kids went to college with new typewriters. In the blue
chair, with his work on his lapboard, after a pleasant dinner of
macaroni and sausage and salad, he dozed off. Then he was sixty. Sixty?
Then he rode back and forth on trains, Judy became ill, doctors offered
opinions, comas were deceptive, Judy died. But the traffic on Coleytown
Road next morning still moved casually too fast. And in a minute he was
seventy-five and the phone rang with news that witty John of the great
late lunches was dead. The house pulsed with silence.
Something undone? What? The thing that would
have saved-what? Waking in the dark-maybe something unwritten, that
would have made people say "Yes that's why you matter so much." Ideas
about Wolfe. Dreiser. Or some lost point about John O'Hara.
Women see past him on the street in this
pseudo-present and he feels they are so stupid and walks fierce for a
minute but then his shoulders settle closer to his skeleton with the
truth about these women: not especially stupid; only young. In this
pseudo-present he blinks at a glimpse of that young man on Sixth
Avenue-that young man ready to stride across-but a taxi makes him step
back to the curb, he'll have to wait a few more seconds, he can wait.